AUSTRALIA’S most successful international rally driver, Chris Atkinson, has launched a bid to take on stars of the FIA World Rally Championship such as Sebastien Loeb, Mikko Hirvonen and Petter Solberg when Rally Australia comes to the New South Wales Coffs Coast next September.
Atkinson, 31, is holding talks with Citroen, Ford and Mini teams about a drive on the 8-11 September event as he looks to increase his tally of 67 WRC starts.
The Europe-based Gold Coaster revealed his ambition to British magazine Autosport after contesting the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship at the International Rally of Queensland on the Sunshine Coast last weekend.
Atkinson drove alongside World Champion Petter Solberg in the Subaru World Rally Team from 2005 until it withdrew from the sport at the end of 2008.
He completed one round in a privateer Citroen C4 in Ireland in January 2009 and then, after amassing a total of 14 top-five WRC finishes, joined the Malaysian factory Proton Motorsports team in the APRC from 2010.
“I’m determined to get back to the World Rally Championship and this is a step towards that goal,” Atkinson said in the article, WRC.com reported.
“It’s not decided yet what car I’ll drive [but] it’s fair to say all of the cars look pretty exciting. Right now, I’m focused on getting everything in place. The car I’m driving is integral to that, but it’s about getting the funding right.”
Despite his lack of recent running in the WRC, Atkinson is hopeful his APRC experience of driving Super 2000-type cars - which have similar handling characteristics to World Rally Cars – and that this year’s Rally Australia is using an all-new route, will ensure he is competitive on the gravel roads.
“It [will be] a level playing field, but don’t forget those guys are out in their cars every three weeks - I haven’t driven one yet,” he said.
“The bigger picture is about getting back to the WRC and competing on my home round is a must.”
Atkinson’s hopes received a boost when Mini WRC Team principal David Richards admitted he would be keen to have the Australian in one of his cars if the squad added a seventh event to its limited debut-season schedule.
“I’ve spoken to Chris about it and I’d welcome him back if there’s a budget to do it,” Richards told Autosport.
Atkinson last competed in his home rally in Western Australia in 2006, finishing ninth.